Thursday, 22 September 2022

Shout-Out: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

"A uniquely charming mixture of whimsy and the macabre that completely won me over. If you ever wished for an adult romance that felt like Howl's Moving Castle, THIS IS THAT BOOK."
—Helen Hoang, author of The Kiss Quotient

Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness.

Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest.

After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born.

If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most—Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares—each other?

Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Blog Vacation

I'll be taking a month or so off for a blog vacation. I've got a few time consuming projects I've been working on and want to focus on those exclusively for a bit. I will be back with new content mid-September.

Friday, 12 August 2022

Shout-Out: Sanctuary by Andi C. Buchanan

Morgan’s home is a sanctuary for ghosts.


The once-grand, now dilapidated old house they live in has become a refuge for their found family—Morgan's partner Araminta, an artist with excellent dress sense; Theo, a ten-year-old with an excess of energy; quiet telekinesthetic pensioner Denny—as well as the ghosts who live alongside them. All people who once needed sanctuary for their queer, neurodivergent selves.

Now they offer that safety to the dead as well as the living.

When a collection of ghosts trapped in old bottles are delivered to their door, something from the past is unleashed. A man who once collected ghosts - a man who should have died centuries before - suddenly has the house under his control. Morgan must trust their own abilities, and their hard-won sense of self, to save their home, their family, and the woman they love.

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Not a Review: From Age to Age by Edward Foley

This isn't a proper review because I only had time to read select chapters of interest.

When I did my degree in medieval studies I learned about languages, manuscripts, church architecture, drama, literature and philosophy. It shocks me now that not one professor suggested learning about Catholicism and how the church's liturgy affected architecture, etc. The first inkling I had that I'd missed something massively important was during my graduation mass (the first time I attended mass), and so many things suddenly clicked. Recently I've been trying to plug that gap in my knowledge and came across From Age to Age: How Christians Have Celebrated the Eucharist.

The book has an introduction followed by 7 chapters: 
1. Emerging Christianity: The First Century
2. The Domestic Church: 100-313
3. The Rise of the Roman Church: 313-750
4. Frankish Domination: 750-1073
5. The Prelude to Reform: 1073-1517
6. Revolt, Reform and Rigidity: 1517-1903
7. The Return to Change: 1903 and Beyond
The book concludes with a glossary and bibliography.

Within each chapter the author subdivides the information into categories for architecture, music, books, and vessels for administering the Eucharist.

The book explained terms I've seen for years without properly understanding them (for specific books and liturgical vessels in particular), as well as giving some indications as to how the space in a church was used over time (the development of the choir, the slow exclusion of the congregation from singing/participating).

If you don't know the difference between a missal and a breviary, or what a pyx is, this is an easy to read primer that covers the whole of Catholicism. It doesn't go into a lot of detail, but it gives a good foundation.

Sunday, 31 July 2022

Books Received in July 2022

Many thanks to Angry Robot for sending me an advance copy of:

Antimatter Blues by Edward Ashton - This is the follow-up to Mickey7, which I really enjoyed. I'm curious to see where the series goes.

Edward Ashton's Antimatter Blues is the thrilling follow up to Mickey7 in which an expendable heads out to explore new terrain for human habitation.


Summer has come to Niflheim. The lichens are growing, the six-winged bat-things are chirping, and much to his own surprise, Mickey Barnes is still alive—that last part thanks almost entirely to the fact that Commander Marshall believes that the colony’s creeper neighbors are holding an antimatter bomb, and that Mickey is the only one who’s keeping them from using it. Mickey’s just another colonist now. Instead of cleaning out the reactor core, he spends his time these days cleaning out the rabbit hutches. It’s not a bad life.

It’s not going to last.

It may be sunny now, but winter is coming. The antimatter that fuels the colony is running low, and Marshall wants his bomb back. If Mickey agrees to retrieve it, he’ll be giving up the only thing that’s kept his head off of the chopping block. If he refuses, he might doom the entire colony. Meanwhile, the creepers have their own worries, and they’re not going to surrender the bomb without getting something in return. Once again, Mickey finds the fate of two species resting in his hands. If something goes wrong this time, though, he won’t be coming back.

Out March 14, 2023

Friday, 29 July 2022

Shout-Out: Sons of Darkness by Gourav Mohanty

SOME BALLADS ARE INKED IN BLOOD.

Bled dry by violent confrontations with the Magadhan Empire, the Mathuran Republic simmers on the brink of oblivion. The Republic’s Leaders, Krishna and Satyabhama, have put their plans in motion within and beyond its blood-soaked borders, to protect it from annihilation. But they will soon discover that neither gold nor alliances last forever.

They are, however, not the only players in this game.

Mati, Pirate-Princess of Kalinga, must mend her ways if she is to be a good wife. But old habits die hard, especially when one habitually uses murder to settle scores. Karna, the gifted son of a lowborn charioteer, hopes to bury his brutal past, but finds that life is not generous in offering second chances. The crippled hero-turned-torturer Shakuni struggles in the maze of daggers, that is politics, leaving little time for him to plot the revenge he craves.

Alongside a cast of sinister queens, naive kings, pious assassins and predatory priests, these dubious heroes will converge where the Son of Darkness is prophesied to rise and break the World, even as forgotten Gods prepare to play their hand.

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Book Review: The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World by Virginia Postrel

The book consists of seven chapters with a preface and afterward. Each chapter deals with a particular part of fabric production: Fiber, Thread, Cloth, Dye, Traders, Consumers, and Innovators. Each chapter starts in ancient times and ends in modern ones, showing how things have changed over time.

Fabric is one of those things that is so ubiquitous and important for life, and yet is also so ordinary and cheap nowadays that we simply forget about it. The book emphasizes that for most of human history fabric was at the forefront of thought. The amount of time and effort that’s gone into clothing and cloth for other purposes (sails, table coverings, curtains, blankets, etc.) is astronomical.

The book begins with the idea that modern people look at ancient art dealing with women and see a spindle and think, ah, this is a domestic scene. But we forget that the spindle as a means of turning fibres into thread was the start of production, necessary for the home, yes, but also an important industry. Millions of women over the course of history have spun thread and made cloth, whether of flax, cotton, wool, or silk. It was constant work because cloth is always needed. The book also shows how spinning thread was undervalued, partly because it was women’s work, but also because the higher the cost of thread, the higher the cost of cloth. We do the same thing today, keeping the final cost of clothing low so the rich can buy a lot of it, even if that means exploiting the workers who sew the cloth into clothing.

My interests are in ancient and medieval history so I didn’t expect the modern sections to interest me, but they were also fascinating. Learning about how cotton plants were cross bread and a fluke mutation created the cotton plants bred today was neat.

This is an excellent book dealing with a topic that affects everyone, but to which we give entirely too little thought.

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Shout-Out: Classic Monsters Unleashed edited by James Aquilone

Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Moreau, the Headless Horseman, the Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera, the Wicked Witch of the West--they're all here, in this collection of horror short stories that reimagine, subvert, and pay homage to our favorite monsters and creatures.

Written by the biggest names in the genre--including Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Jonathan Maberry, Ramsey Campbell, Lisa Morton, Owl Goingback, Richard Christian Matheson, Seanan McGuire, Maurice Broaddus, Dacre Stoker, Linda D. Addison, Alessandro Manzetti, Tim Waggoner, John Palisano, Mercedes M. Yardley, Lucy A. Snyder, Gary A. Braunbeck, Rena Mason, and Monique Snyman.

And monstrously illustrated by Colton Worley and Mister Sam Shearon.

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Book Review: For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

Pros: interesting retelling of several fairy tales, compelling characters, good worldbuilding, fun romance

Cons: constant tension, repetitive danger

Redarys is the second daughter born to Valleyda’s royal family. The first daughter is for the throne, the second is for the wolf. After she enters the Wilderwood Red discovers the stories she’s grown up with are mostly true but that the Wolf is not the monster she expected. Her twin sister Neverah resolves to bring Red back, not realizing that destroying the forest will destroy her sister and unleash the monstrous shadows it holds captive.

Though the title and cover make it seem like a retelling of Red Riding Hood, the book is actually more Beauty and the Beast. It’s a very loose adaptation with a lot of unexpected twists and a larger underlying plot.

The worldbuilding was good, with several nations and mentions of trade and religion. The Wilderwood was interesting in how it trapped people inside and how it interacted with the Wolves.

I loved the slow building romance between Red and Eammon. It felt very organic, and though I did wish they were more open with each other their various traumas made it hard for them to trust and risk losing what they’d gained. Their interludes created some needed breaks to the tense atmosphere.

The story doesn’t slowly build tension, every time something bad happens it’s an immediate 10 on the tension scale. I found the book somewhat exhausting as a result of it’s flipping between 0 and 10 so often and had to read the book in bits and pieces.

The dangers were fairly repetitive with the Wolves dealing with the same things over and over again.

The ending paves the way for the sequel with some major events still needing resolution.

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Book Review: A History of Herbalism: Cure, Cook, and Conjure by Emma Kay

The book starts with an introduction that lists herbs for various purposes and then takes you on a brief world history tour of herbalism, starting with the Greeks and Chinese. Throughout the book examples of how various herbs are used are employed from sources from multiple countries.

There are three chapters. Chapter 1 goes over specific British herbalists, followed by information on those who worked in adjacent fields (sellers, hospitals, gardens, illustrators). Chapter 2 deals with magic and medicine, giving individual A-Z lists for both topics. Each listing mentions an anecdote or usage from a historic source. The book isn’t being comprehensive, there are only a few usages per herb, but it’s a great compilation that’s enlightening without being boring. Chapter 3 is on how herbs have been used in cooking. Here the author translates a number of interesting recipes. Be aware, with a few exceptions these are direct historical translations, meaning there are no measurements, so unless you’re used to using old cookbooks or are a trained chef, you’ll have a lot of experimentation ahead of you if you decide to make one of these recipes. The recipes are organized by topic, with most of them employing multiple herbs.

I was impressed with the breadth of sources Kay used. I learned about quite a few interesting British and medieval herbals (some of which you can find online as they are out of copyright), as well as herbs and herbals from other countries (including Nigeria, Japan, and the Aztec empire). I was impressed by the number of countries with written herbals predating the modern period, and with the author’s including recipes and herbal usages from so many of them.

The book ends with substantial notes and a bibliography.

There are a decent number of black and white photographs to accompany the text.

The text often jumps from one herb or topic to another with little to no transition, which I found delightful as it maintained interest when reading the book in its entirety, though some might find it disorienting.

This is a great book. It tackles a broad topic and has done an excellent job of maintaining interest while being enlightening. Even if you’ve read several books on herbs and herbals you’ll find something new here.

Out in the UK on June 30th, later (different sites show different release dates) in other countries.

Friday, 17 June 2022

Gollancz Open Submission Call for Unagented Authors

From their press release:


CALLING UNAGENTED AUTHORS
*We are currently open to unagented novel submissions until 30th June 2022*

Whether you're writing epic space opera or smutty paranormal romance, dystopian fiction or psychological horror, we'd love to hear from you!

Our titles include Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series, Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm, and many more. We love everything fantastical and are excited to read wherever your imagination takes you.

Anyone with a completed fantasy, science fiction or horror novel that does not have representation with a literary agency and has not previously been published in the UK is welcome to apply.


WHAT DO I SEND?

Please send in your unagented submissions between 1st June 2022, (00:00 BST) until 30th June 2022, (23:59 BST) to submissions.gollancz@orionbooks.co.uk.

In your email, please include:
Your full-length book attached as a .pdf or Word .doc/ .docx

Up to a 1,000 word synopsis in the body of the email, including what genre your story falls within (feel free to refer to currently published titles too).

100 words about yourself in the body of the email.

Your email address.

Should you have any further queries please contact us at submissions.gollancz@orionbooks.co.uk.
For more information on what we publish, check out our website and social channels.

Thursday, 16 June 2022

Shout-Out: Rise of the Vicious Princess by C. J. Redwine

The first in a YA political fantasy duology about a fierce princess determined to bring lasting peace to her kingdom regardless of the cost to her heart—from C.J. Redwine, the author of the Defiance series and the New York Times bestselling Ravenspire series. Perfect for fans of These Violent Delights, And I Darken, and Ash Princess.


Princess Charis Willowthorn is the dutiful sword of Calera. Raised to be ruthless and cunning, her only goal is to hold her war-torn kingdom together long enough to find a path toward peace with their ancient foe Montevallo, even if the cost is her own heart.

When violence erupts in the castle itself, nearly killing the queen, Charis must assume her mother’s duties and manage both the war and her kingdom. But as an unseen enemy begins sinking Calera’s ships, Charis realizes a threat much greater than Montevallo is coming for her people. So she forms a plan.

By day, she is Calera’s formidable princess intent on forging an alliance with Montevallo. By night, she disguises herself as a smuggler and roams the sea with a trusted group of loyalists, hunting for their new enemies. And through it all, she accidentally falls in love with the wrong boy.

But her enemies are much closer than Charis realizes, and her heart isn’t the only thing she has left to lose.

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Book Review: A Song With Teeth by T. Frohock

This is the third novel in the series, and though they are designed so you can read each book independently, you do get more out of the by reading them in order as the characters and some story arcs continue from earlier books. The author does include a quick spoiler free synopsis of prior books if you do decide to skip ahead. You can find my reviews of the previous novellas and books here:

Los Nefilim (novella collection)
Where Oblivion Lies
Carved From Stone and Dream

Pros: complex worldbuilding, wonderful family relationships, interesting characters

Cons:

It’s 1943 and the Nazi’s have occupied France. Los Nefilim lost the Spanish civil war and are helping with the French resistance. Diago is acting as a double agent with his daimon-kin and running several lines of spies. Ysabel is sent to retrieve important manuscript pages that carry parts of a spell that will help the allies in their planned invasion. Meanwhile Guillermo’s brother is consolidating his power as the new leader of Die Nefilim.

It’s a slow-burn spy novel that gives each character several unforseen twists to their story.

The background is complex and there is some terminology you need to learn (there’s a glossary at the back to help you out). The books deal with angels, daimons, and nefilim (or nephilim) the offspring of humans and angels/daimons.

While there are some disturbing scenes, they’re short and important to the story, like Nico’s time at a concentration camp.

It feels rare to see loving relationships in SF/F so to get two in this series was wonderful. Diago and Miquel have something special. They’re such good parents and handle the trials they’re dealt with love and compassion. Similarly Guillermo and Juanita also have a great relationship, and have raised Ysabel to be a good leader. Having the kids reflect on what their parents taught them about handling fear and acting calm under pressure was really cool.

This is a great series. It can be hard to take all at once (there’s one off page rape that’s central to the story and several on page scenes of torture), but it’s also got some brilliant family love (both straight and queer). If you’re looking for strong relationships and interesting spy stories in a historical setting, pick these up.

Thursday, 9 June 2022

Shout-Out: The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield

‘Power is not something you are given. Power is something you take. When you are a woman, it is a little more difficult, that’s all’


1768. Charlotte, daughter of the Habsburg Empress, arrives in Naples to marry a man she has never met. Her sister Antoine is sent to France, and in the mirrored corridors of Versailles they rename her Marie Antoinette.

The sisters are alone, but they are not powerless. When they were only children, they discovered a book of spells – spells that work, with dark and unpredictable consequences.

In a time of vicious court politics, of discovery and dizzying change, they use the book to take control of their lives.

But every spell requires a sacrifice. And as love between the sisters turns to rivalry, they will send Europe spiralling into revolution.

Brimming with romance, betrayal, and enchantment, The Embroidered Book reimagines a dazzling period of history as you have never seen it before.

Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Movie Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Directed by George Romero
IMDb listing

Pros: good acting, political commentary, tense moments

Cons: some gore (but very minor), violence

The dead walk the earth and cities are trying to mitigate their spread. But some people doubt what's going on and don't want to hand over their departed loved ones.

After a harrowing escape from an increasingly overrun city, four people take refuge in an abandoned mall.

I was impressed by Night of the Living Dead, which I watched a few years ago and wanted to continue the series. And this film holds up shockingly well. There were a few scenes I might have thought unrealistic or over the top before living through the Covid pandemic. Now, it’s impressive how true to life the film is.

The story does a good job of setting up the 4 protagonists. You watch them in harrowing circumstances, in downtime, and slowly falling apart due to the constant stress. The actors are great.

I watched the ‘complete cut’, which apparently added back some character development scenes and gore to the theatrical version. There was some gore, but only once scene (towards the end of the film) seemed gratuitous. Though it was 2 1/2 hours long it never really dragged. There were some tense moments, some subversions to expectations, and some genuinely sweet moments when things were calm.

The film made some very cutting remarks about politics and racism at the time (and our current time, as it turns out). I loved that one of the protagonists was a black man who was by far the most competent of the bunch. I also liked that the woman refused to be ‘den mother’ to the guys.

The special effects were basically just make-up and done very well. There is a lot of violence, especially at the beginning and end of the film.

It’s a good movie. It’s great when older stuff holds up well, though a bit sad we haven’t progressed much as a society from the lessons it was trying to teach.

Friday, 3 June 2022

Cathedral Information Pages going up on Archive.org

The first information page has been posted on Archive.org. It’s a 2 page spread on Notre-Dame de Laon Cathedral in France. You can find it here.

I decided to go with Archive.org as anyone can download these information pages from the site without an account (though an account is needed for other uses, like borrowing books).

I’ve set the license for attribution - non-commercial.

My idea is to post 1 or 2 of these a week on Monday and/or Friday depending on how busy I am and how much work that weeks page(s) require.

My page on Sainte-Chapelle in Paris is ready to go up on Monday. You can find all of my pages by looking up Strider66 and ticking off the 'account' box on the left.

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Books Received in May 2022

 Many Thanks to Pen & Sword for sending me review copy of the following:

A History of Herbalism: Cure, Cook and Conjure by Emma Kay - This is a great book with a lot of interesting tidbits of knowledge. The book covers a range of topics regarding herbs. My review will be posted on June 30th, when it releases in the UK. I've seen release dates in Canada for August 30th (Amazon) and September 13th (Indigo). Given supply chain issues, I'm not sure which date is correct.

Food historian Emma Kay tells the story of our centuries-old relationship with herbs. From herbalists of old to contemporary cooking, this book reveals the magical and medicinal properties of your favourite plants in colourful, compelling detail.

At one time, every village in Britain had a herbalist. A History of Herbalism investigates the lives of women and men who used herbs to administer treatment and knew the benefit of each. Meet Dr Richard Shephard of Preston, who cultivated angelica on his estate in the eighteenth century for the sick and injured; or Nicholas Culpeper, a botanist who catalogued the pharmaceutical benefits of herbs for early literary society.

But herbs were not only medicinal. Countless cultures and beliefs as far back as prehistoric times incorporated herbs into their practices: paganism, witchcraft, religion and even astrology. Take a walk through a medieval ‘physick’ garden, or Early Britain, and learn the ancient rituals to fend off evil powers, protect or bewitch or even attract a lover.

The wake of modern medicine saw a shift away from herbal treatments, with rituals and spells shrouded with superstition as the years wore on. The author reveals how herbs became more culinary rather than medicinal including accounts of recent trends for herbal remedies as lockdown and the pandemic leads us to focus more on our health and wellbeing.


Monday, 30 May 2022

Medieval Trip / Site Information Pages

In 2015 I went to Paris. Before leaving for my trip I did detailed information pages for the cathedrals I planned to visit. These had floor plans, diagrams of the west facades with labelled sculptures, interesting features to see inside, and short historical sketches.

My idea was to better know the site and the sculpture, stained glass, and frescos at each site to look for. I hate coming back from a trip and realizing I missed seeing something important.

Over the years I’ve gotten better with the technology (I do these in Inkscape) and started doing new pages for a trip planned in 2020. That trip’s been postponed, which means I’ve had more time than expected to make these information sheets. And the longer it’s been postponed, the more sites I’ve learned about and want to visit, and the more sites I've done.

I now have about 60 sites/cities completed with more in the works (though I've not been making as many so far this year). The earlier ones are for specific buildings only, generally 1 side for the inside, and 1 side for the outside. More recently I’ve started adding detailed notes for less important (to me) sites and information to help with the trip I’ve planned (so, with added maps, floor plans of museums, city history, city crests/flags etc).

Also, there are some blanks and question marks where I’d planned to fill in information after visiting the sites. Items where there are no good images or complete information online and I’d hoped to learn who the figures are when I visited in person. For example, the dome of the Padova baptistry has scenes of Genesis. I don’t know where the scenes are exactly because I haven’t been able to find detailed enough photos. I hoped to take my own. In the meantime, that section of my diagram simply has ‘Genesis stories’ and ’fill in’. So I’d need to make it clear where information is missing and have version number so people know if a page has been updated. In fact, I would love it if someone had good photos of those areas or knew the placements could share that with me.

I made these for myself, but as someone who has spent hours pouring over photos online to see what sculpture is in this corner and what painting is on that wall, I understand the pages I’ve done have usefulness outside of myself. I would love to share these with a wider audience and introduce people to the sources I’ve used (there are some incredible resources online) and hopefully save you the time & effort I’ve spent. ‘Why reinvent the wheel?’ as my father used to say.

I’m ok with sharing the pages as they currently are with a small audience, but if I share them with a wider audience there are changes I would have to make. For one, I’ve used copyrighted images that I would have to remove. Second, I’d want to look over the notes, make sure there are no spelling errors or contractions that others might not be able to parse. I would also make sure that all my sources are listed.

I tried posting the pdfs to my blog in the past but blogger won’t allow the format. I just discovered that google docs does. I’m willing to post my pages to google docs and make them freely available. (If someone knows a better free site, I'm all ears.) I could post 1/week or so until they’re all up. I have a few questions for those interested first though. For people who haven’t seen the pages, I’m including my pages for Padova/Padua below so you can give feedback.

Since I would have to edit these for 'publication' anyway…

1) Would you prefer one monument per page? For example, I have St Anthony’s Church on the same page as the Padova Bapitstry. It’s kind of confusing with small font. Some pages have even more monuments. I could separate the monuments and do 1 or 2 per page.

2) Do you like the maps? My thought was to use the pages in situ. But if I take the maps out there would be more room for information at a larger font.

3) Any other suggestions?

I’m sure I’m forgetting to mention something here so this may get updated.
ETA -> After some consideration I've decided that google docs is a bad choice as it requires people to have a link in order to find the pages, and there's a limit to how much I can upload before I need to start deleting pages. So I've decided to post the pages to Archive.org. I'll post more when the first page is up this Friday.


Thursday, 26 May 2022

Shout-Out: The Middling Affliction by Alex Shvartsman

The Dresden Files meets American Gods in New York City.

What would you do if you lost everything that mattered to you, as well as all means to protect yourself and others, but still had to save the day? Conrad Brent is about to find out.


Conrad Brent protects the people of Brooklyn from monsters and magical threats. The snarky, wisecracking guardian also has a dangerous secret: he’s one in a million – literally.

Magical ability comes to about one in every 30,000 and can manifest at any age. Conrad is rarer than this, however. He’s a middling, one of the half-gifted and totally despised. Most of the gifted community feels that middlings should be instantly killed. The few who don’t flat out hate them still aren’t excited to be around middlings. Meaning Conrad can’t tell anyone, not even his best friends, what he really is.

Conrad hides in plain sight by being a part of the volunteer Watch, those magically gifted who protect their cities from dangerous, arcane threats. And, to pay the bills, Conrad moonlights as a private detective and monster hunter for the gifted community. Which helps him keep up his personal fiction – that he’s a magical version of Batman. Conrad does both jobs thanks to charms, artifacts, and his wits, along with copious amounts of coffee. But little does he know that events are about to change his life…forever.

When Conrad discovers the Traveling Fair auction house has another middling who’s just manifested her so-called powers on the auction block, he’s determined to save her, regardless of risk. But what he finds out while doing so is even worse – the winning bidder works for a company that’s just created the most dangerous chemical weapon to ever hit the magical community.

Before Conrad can convince anyone at the Watch of the danger, he’s exposed for what he really is. Now, stripped of rank, magical objects, friends and allies, Conrad has to try to save the world with only his wits. Thankfully though, no one’s taken away his coffee.

Out May 31st.

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Video: Horror Musical Instrument - The Apprehension Engine

A friend pointed me to this interesting video about a machine built by Tony Duggan-Smith for the Indy Film & Music youtube channel, to make horror movie sounds. It's incredible the variety of sounds the machine can make.

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

The Christian Topography of Cosmas - 2 reviews

I first learned about Cosmas Indicopleustes, a 6th century monk who developed a unique Christian centered theory of the shape of the world (that it’s flat and rectangular with a rounded ceiling above which is found heaven), a few years ago when I was researching Ethiopia. One of Cosmas’s chapters deals with an inscription on a stone throne found in Adulis, the main port city of the Axumite Empire (centered around what is now the Ethiopian province of Tigray & Eritrea). Ethiopia is mentioned several other times in the text. I was also surprised to discover that book 11 focuses on India, with descriptions of some animals found there, including the unicorn! I’ve finally had time to read the book as well as a commentary volume about it.

The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk by Cosmas Indicopleustes
Translated and edited by J. W. McCrindle
multiple public domain copies of the book are available at Archive.org

The Christian Toopography of Cosmas started off as a treatise in 5 books, explaining how the Christian view of the world should line up with Biblical scripture, and that the world is therefore not spherical as the Greeks teach, but is in fact rectangular at the base with a rounded vaulted heaven. The heavens are split into 2 by the firmament, above which were the waters that caused the flood, and where Christians will dwell after the resurrection. As time passed and criticisms arose against Cosmas’ arguments, he added subsequent books until there were 12 in all, though not all the manuscript copies that survive from the middle ages contain all 12.

Top image: the world as seen from above with Paradise to the East, and an ocean circumnavigating the land. Below left: a side view of the Earth with the vault of heaven above. Below right: showing how the sun is blocked by the massive mountain, explaining day and night cycles. 

It’s a fascinating book with a fair number of illustrations: some decorative, showing the different prophets etc, and some schematic, helping to explain the cosmography being described.

McCrindle’s translation is very readable, and clear. He includes copious explanatory notes, which help the reader better understand what Cosmas is teaching. In the appendix are a series of line drawings representing many of the illustrations from the manuscripts (three are depicted above).

Knowing that the Ptolemaic theory that the earth was the centre of the universe, surrounded by concentric rings of the sun, moon, planets, and stars, was wrong, it was interesting seeing Cosmas’ scientifically accurate criticisms against it. And as someone who once believed the Bible uncritically, I can understand his desire to make the connection that the tabernacle commanded by God was meant as a template for the creation - following the medieval belief that as things are above, or in the spiritual realm, so they are patterned below, on earth.

It was fascinating getting into the head of someone from the 6th century, seeing how they interpreted scripture and viewed the world. Even if their view was wrong. I also loved learning that the shape of churches, with vaulted ceilings (barrel vaults originally), and rounded apses, was meant to pattern this idea of the heavens over earth. I’d seen it in person in cathedrals and churches, but never heard the reasoning behind it (Kominko’s book referenced some articles I want to look up that expands of the background of this idea).

The World of Kosmas
 by Maja Kominko.

The World of Kosmas focuses primarily on the illustrations in the manuscripts, where they were originally placed in the text, and exterior works that might have influenced their design. There’s a chapter on Kosmas’ background before going into each chapter where miniatures are found (books 2, 4, 5, and then a summary of 6-9). The book has a lot of supplementary illustrations and a full set of miniatures from the three manuscripts of the Christian Topography the author is referencing, at the back. The book does not mention books 10 to 12 of the manuscript.

I found Kominko’s book of great value in giving some wider explanations for each section, putting the treatise in its cultural context, where a discussion of what various groups believed was helpful. She also explained what Cosmos got wrong for those whose astronomy and math skills might not be up to the task of parsing Kosmas’ proofs.

If you don’t have the time or desire to read the full treatise, Kominko summarizes each book for you (and each section of book 5). She thus provides an excellent overview of the book in addition to her commentary on the illustrations.

If you’re interested in astronomy, learning how some medieval Christians saw the world, medieval thoughts about the Bible, astronomy, etc. then Cosmas/Kosmas is an interesting author to read.

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Fantasy Music by Ravnskjold

Looking for some great fantasy inspired music for a D&D campaign or simply to listen to? I stumbled across a cool youtube site a few days ago. Ian Ravnskjold puts out copyright-safe music he has written and performed that you can listen to on youtube or purchase rights to use on your own project via his Patreon page. 

He's got harp music, Viking, Celtic, pirate, stuff for if you're in a library, tavern, a hidden fairy village, etc. There are some videos that are single songs, and other with several hours of really pretty music.

 

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Movie Review: The Batman

Directed by Matt Reeves, 2022
IMDB listing

Pros: clever plot, interesting characters, Batman is a detective, good special effects and cinematography

Cons: Cat Woman’s knit mask wasn’t the best costume design choice, some overly heavy gothic architecture

As the Gotham PD celebrate their biggest bust, taking down a drug kingpin, a series of murders by ‘the Riddler’ forces Batman to investigate corruption in the city.

I’ll admit, when I heard they were making another Batman film, I thought ‘why?’. It feels like Batman’s been done to death at this point. Similarly the casting seemed bizarre, though I hadn’t seen the actors in much. But let me tell you, this is an incredible film. This feels very much like an old comic book Batman, when he was a detective, rather than a superhero.

This is a believable, gritty, corrupt Gotham where Batman has been operating for 2 years. He has no extreme equipment beyond a souped up car. It was awesome seeing him solve puzzles and try to figure out what’s going on.

The Riddler has always been one of my favourite Batman villains, and he’s portrayed brilliantly here. The plot is clever and the puzzles complex. I loved that all of the characters had real motivations and their own goals for their actions. That includes the Penguin and Cat Woman. I’ve always thought that superhero films do themselves a disservice by trying to shoehorn in too many bad guys. It works here because there are no long backstory sequences. The characters are just living their lives in the city.

Robert Pattinson is an excellent Batman. He’s clearly been through trauma. I appreciated the personal growth he goes through during the film and the revelation about being The Batman he makes at the end.

There are some great action sequences and some amazing cinematography.

While I can understand why they used it (it’s something a real person could easily get a hold of) Cat Woman’s knit hat/mask combo looked odd with her leather catsuit. I also wasn’t a fan of the rather over the top gothic flourishes in Bruce’s house/apartment? (Wayne manor? it kind of looked like he lived in the office tower so I wasn’t quite sure where this was). The architectural details made doorways weirdly narrow and looked so impractical and out of place.

The film ends with a message of hope that’s been missing from other recent DC movies. Yes, there are still problems, but they can be fixed if people work for the common good.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to like a Batman film more than The Dark Knight, but this has done it. It’s excellent, go see it.

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Book Review: Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

Pros: light romance, fun magic, interesting world

Cons: some readers might be put off that certain matters are skirted over

Marra’s older sister is married to the prince of their larger neighbouring kingdom. After a death and some unpleasant revelations, Marra is determined to save her sister, like a hero in the stories she read as a child. But how does one become a hero, and how do you kill a prince?

The opening of this book grabbed me by the throat and immediately pulled me into its world. Though the plot has some unpleasant elements the book on the whole is surprisingly upbeat. I loved the subtle humour, especially when the romance thread entered.

Marra doesn’t do politics well, which is a problem for a princess. It was nice seeing her build a group of friends who helped with her quest. They’re a quirky bunch and a lot of fun to read about. I loved Kingfisher’s take on the godmother mythos.

The magic is never explained and appears in various guises. There’s a goblin market, a woman who can talk to the dead, and Marra is able to complete two impossible fairytale quests.

I needed a lighthearted read so I appreciated that the book glossed over the disturbing elements of child death and physical abuse. Some readers might be put off the fact that the author doesn’t show the full fallout of these impactful events. I had the impression Marra was supposed to be neurodivergent, and so she doesn’t pick up on things the way others do. As the point of view character, this colours how the reader sees the world as well.

I found the story quick moving and compelling. This is an uplifting book with an excellent wrap-up that leaves you feeling content with the world.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Shout-Out: Dark Lullaby by Polly Ho-Yen

For fans of Black Mirror and The Handmaid’s Tale, a mother desperately tries to keep her family together in a society where parenting standards are strictly monitored.


The world is suffering an infertility crisis, the last natural birth was over twenty years ago and now the only way to conceive is through a painful fertility treatment. Any children born are strictly monitored, and if you are deemed an unfit parent then your child is extracted. After witnessing so many struggling to conceive – and then keep – their babies, Kit thought she didn’t want children. But then she meets Thomas and they have a baby girl, Mimi. Soon the small mistakes build up and suddenly Kit is faced with the possibility of losing her daughter, and she is forced to ask herself how far she will go to keep her family together.

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Book Review: Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney

Pros: fascinating magic and mythology, interesting characters, great world-building

Cons:

Miscellaneous ‘Lanie’ Stones is the first necromancer born in over 100 years in the city of Liriat. Her family has been the right hands of the ruling Brackenwild family since the founding, acting as royal executioners and assassins. Which makes Lanie’s allergy to violence a challenge to manage. So she’s raised by the family’s revenant, Goody Graves. After a series of events leaves her older, sadistic sister Nita in charge, Lanie’s life changes. As she grows both in wisdom and power, Lanie struggles to live up to the expectations of the past and forge her own future.

Lanie is a wonderful character, surprisingly kind and loving despite her limited human contact and dysfunctional home life. Necromancy is usually depicted as evil and gross, so seeing Lanie’s pure joy in her power and love of the creatures she reanimates is nice to see. I also loved this depiction of the goddess of death.

The larger cast is a mix of nice and terrible characters. Nita is simply horrifying, willing to use her power of fascination to force people to do her will. I had real sympathy for Mak and the abuses he suffers. Canon Lir was intriguing, and the friends Lanie makes later in the book were a lot of fun to hang out with.

The world-building was great, with several distinct cultures represented. I was impressed with the depth of detail given to each culture, making them feel very real.

The story is slow moving at times, giving you the chance to really get to know the characters and world.

The ending left me feeling melancholic. This is the first book in a trilogy so while a few story threads are tied up, there are some major threads left unresolved. It’s an ending that I had to sit with for a few hours to better understand and appreciate.

It’s a great book that does some unique things.

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

Book Review: Amazing Gardens of the World: Spectacular Classic and Contemporary Gardens by Vivienne Hambly

Pros: lots of gorgeous photos, showcases a large number of gardens

Cons:

This is a gorgeous book. The photos are large and plentiful, with a wide variety of shots. The book covers gardens from around the globe with chapters on Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Asia, Australasia and the Pacific, and North and South America. Each chapter and the book itself get a single page introduction.

Most gardens get 1-2 photos, with a few getting as many as 7. Each garden has a short description explaining when it was planted/cultivated and, if known, who designed it.

The chapter on Africa and the Middle East is quite short, as there apparently aren’t that many large scale ornamental gardens there. But the photos of the gardens included are magnificent.

I got a digital copy, so I can’t judge the paper quality.

If you like gardens or need a book to help calm your mind with beautiful imagery, this is a good choice.

Out April 12th.

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Books Received in March 2022

 Many thanks to Sourcebooks Fire for the following advance reader copy.

Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah - This is the kind of YA book that catches my eye. Great cover and interesting, Hunger Games style premise. Out September 6th.


Perfect for fans of The Hunger Games and Fable, this South Asian-inspired fantasy is a gripping debut about the power of the elite, the price of glory, and one girl's chance to change it all.

 

Sixteen-year-old Koral and her older brother Emrik risk their lives each day to capture the monstrous maristags that live in the black seas around their island. They have to, or else their family will starve.

In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, the Landers—the ruling elite, have indentured Koral's family to provide the maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others—if they're lucky—survive.

When the last maristag of the year escapes and Koral has no new maristag to sell, her family's financial situation takes a turn for the worse and they can't afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral's only choice is to do what no one in the world has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race.

But every step of the way is unpredictable as Koral races against competitors—including her ex-boyfriend—who have trained for this their whole lives and who have no intention of letting a low-caste girl steal their glory. As a rebellion rises and rogues attack Koral to try and force her to drop out, she must choose—her life or her sister's—before the whole island burns.

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Book Review: A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson

Pros: realistic characters, excellent romance, interesting magic system

Cons:

It’s been a year since Myra Whitlock’s parents vanished and with her sister sick, she’s desperate for money. The governor’s wife discovers Myra’s a Prodigy, a magician who can use paintings to change reality, and offers her a lot of money to resurrect her son. But the governor hates Prodigies and using magic comes with a cost. It’s quickly apparent that the son’s death might not have been accidental after all and Myra’s secret may not be the only thing at stake with this job.

There are three main threads in this book, the murder mystery, a romance, and the family love that causes Myra to risk everything to save her sister. The threads interweave beautifully. The writing occasionally veers into poetry with a lot of gothic overtones.

Myra is a complicated woman who has dreams of going to art school that are frustrated by her lack of money and her inability to control her magic. Her sister has a chronic illness they can’t identify and so don’t know how to properly treat. August has anxiety issues and has spent his life subsuming his desires and personality to save face for his family. None of the characters’ problems are easily solved and that makes them feel realistic. I loved how they variously helped each other deal with their mental and physical health issues, like Myra helping August breathe slowly to get through a panic attack.

I appreciated that magic couldn’t hand wave away illness or poverty and that there’s a physical cost to the user. It makes it feel like a precious commodity, hard earned and so used sparingly.

The ending wrapped things up in a satisfying manner.

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Shout-Out: A Magical Inheritance by Krista D. Ball

Miss Elizabeth Knight received an unexpected legacy upon her uncle’s death: a collection of occult books. When one of the books begins talking to her, she discovers an entire world of female occultist history opened to her—a legacy the Royal Occult Society had purposely hidden from the world. However, the magic allowing the book to speak to Miss Knight is fading and she must gather a group of female acquaintances of various talents. Together, they’ll need to work to overcome social pressures, ambitious men, and tyrannical parents, all to bring Mrs. Egerton, the book ghost, back.

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Book Review: The City of Dusk by Tara Sim

Pros: lots of intrigue, interesting fleshed out characters with realistic motivations, multiple forms of magic, good fight scenes

Cons:

The city of Nexus sits at the crossroads of the realms of the four gods. Since the Sealing 500 years ago they’ve been cut off from the other realms and their world is slowly dying because of it. The four houses are descendants of liaisons between past royals and the gods, and use their magic to help the people as they vie for the throne. Two of the house heirs want to unseal the pathways to save their realm, while the other 2 want political power and the ability to master their gods’ magic. Meanwhile, conjurors, practitioners of forbidden demon magic, have started creating havoc in the city. Godsnight is approaching, when the planets align and with it the heirs’ best hope of breaking the sealing. But what can four humans achieve when the gods have other plans?

There’s a lot going on in this book and you’ll spend the first few chapters trying to get a handle on the heirs, their houses, their various forms of magic, the political intrigues everyone is involved in and the characters various personal goals and problems. There is a handy guide at the start of the book that gives the house name, their god, the family members, and form of magic. Refer to it often until you get to know who’s who.

The characters were all fully fleshed out with varied motivations. Things rarely went in directions I expected and it was a delight seeing what each one would do next. Two of the heirs had overbearing parents and trouble mastering their magic. The other two had easy mastery but other problems to deal with. It was fun watching the various sibling relationships as well, some loving and others confrontational. The different family units felt realistic, including the dysfunctional ones.

The magic was cool. My favourite power was House Vakara’s necromancy, but seeing the light and shadow magics was fun. You don’t see as much of the elemental magic, given Angelica’s difficulties, though you do see others wield the power. The conjuration circles and learning how demon magic worked in this world was also interesting.

The worldbuilding was well done. In addition to the realms and magic, the principle world has several cultures, all represented in Nexus.

The plot is very complex and when the revelations started happening at the end I’d figured out a few twists while others were a complete surprise. There are some great battles, including a massive, multi-chapter one at the end.

If you like dark fantasy with complex characters and multiple plot threads, interesting magic with great worldbuilding, then give this a go. Just be aware that it’s the first of a series and the ending will leave you wanting more.

Thursday, 17 March 2022

Shout-Out: The Reinvented Heart edited by Jennifer Brozek and Cat Rambo

What happens when emotions like love and friendship span vast distances ― in space, in time, and in the heart?

Science fiction often focuses on future technology and science without considering the ways social structures will change as tech changes ― or not. What will relationships look like in a complicated future of clones, uploaded intelligences, artificial brains, or body augmentation? What stories emerge when we acknowledge possibilities of new genders and ways of thinking about them?


The Reinvented Heart presents stories that complicate sex and gender by showing how shifting technology may affect social attitudes and practices, stories that include relationships with communities and social groups, stories that reinvent traditional romance tropes and recast them for the 21st century, and above all, stories that experiment, astonish, and entertain.
 
Authors include:
Jane Yolen, Seanan McGuire, AnaMaria Curtis, Lisa Morton, Madeline Pine, Sam Fleming, Felicity Drake, Premee Mohamed, Beth Cato, Naomi Kritzer, Sophie Giroir, Maria Dong, Lyda Morehouse, Devin Miller, Aimee Ogden, Anita Ensal, Fran Wilde, Mercedes M. Yardley, Lauren RIng, Xander Odell, Rosemary Claire Smith, Justina Robson.

Ebook out now, print version out May 31.

Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Publication dates

 The pandemic has affected everything in life, including supply chains and, as an aspect of that, publication dates. Several times I've sat down to post a review for a book I read several months ago, only to find out that the book's release date has been pushed back a few weeks or months.

Given what I've been reading on twitter recently about the number of editors and other publishing industry personnel leaving their jobs, we may face more delays in the future. I suspect that the publishing industry will need to change - in a lot of ways - if it wants to survive as a business. And having larger publishing houses swallow up all the smaller ones isn't going to fix what appear to be real systemic problems in the industry.

Thursday, 10 March 2022

Shout-Out: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire's greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she's ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Books Received in January and February 2022

I've been busy with other projects and not taking as much care with my blog, hence being a month late with this post. My thanks, as always, to the publishers who sent me books to review. I don't have much time for pleasure reading at the moment so I've tried to be careful with what books I request. Lucky for me, there are a lot of brilliant books being published right now.

Amazing Gardens of the World by Vivienne Hambly - I requested this on NetGalley, needing something to take my mind off of *waves at the world*. It's a beautiful book with a lot of gorgeous pictures of magnificent gardens from around the world. A much needed palate cleanse. Out April 12th.

From the gardens of the Palace of Versailles to Beatrix Potter's garden in the Lake District, from Monet's garden in France to the Tivoli Gardens in Rome, from the Japanese garden in Portland, Oregon, to city gardens in Tokyo, this book is a wide-ranging celebration of all types of gardens around the globe.


Including formal French gardens and English landscape gardens; famous botanical gardens and little-known curiosities; Iranian and Persian gardens; grand, country-house gardens and inner-city gardens; Zen gardens, strolling Japanese gardens and Chinese gardens; medicinal gardens and one poison garden; knot gardens and Roman gardens, Amazing Gardens of the World explores a huge variety of the approaches and uses of gardening around the world over millennia. In telling the stories of these places, the book touches on the lives of the people who worked in them, designed them, and owned them—people such as Prince Charles, Capability Brown, Gertrude Jekyll, Edith Wharton, and Agatha Christie. Amazing Gardens of the World not only champions the splendor of the world's most magnificent gardens but also reveals many fascinating stories about the history of these places and the people who created them.

Saint Death's Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney - I recently finished The Heroine's Journey by Gail Carriger, so I was better able to appreciate the ways in which Cooney brings that literary journey to life. I loved the magic and the protagonist in this excellent story. Out April 12th.

Nothing complicates life like Death.


Lanie Stones, the daughter of the Royal Assassin and Chief Executioner of Liriat, has never led a normal life. Born with a gift for necromancy and a literal allergy to violence, she was raised in isolation in the family’s crumbling mansion by her oldest friend, the ancient revenant Goody Graves.

When her parents are murdered, it falls on Lanie and her cheerfully psychotic sister Nita to settle their extensive debts or lose their ancestral home—and Goody with it. Appeals to Liriat's ruler to protect them fall on indifferent ears… until she, too, is murdered, throwing the nation's future into doubt.

Hunted by Liriat’s enemies, hounded by her family’s creditors and terrorised by the ghost of her great-grandfather, Lanie will need more than luck to get through the next few months—but when the goddess of Death is on your side, anything is possible.

The Middling Affliction
by Alex Shvartsman
- I just heard about this one, which has a very interesting premise. Out May 31st [ETA I previously mentioned the release date as April 12th but it has been pushed back due to the pandemic and stocking issues].

What would you do if you lost everything that mattered to you, as well as all means to protect yourself and others, but still had to save the day? Conrad Brent is about to find out.


Conrad Brent protects the people of Brooklyn from monsters and magical threats. The snarky, wisecracking guardian also has a dangerous secret: he’s one in a million – literally.

Magical ability comes to about one in every 30,000 and can manifest at any age. Conrad is rarer than this, however. He’s a middling, one of the half-gifted and totally despised. Most of the gifted community feels that middlings should be instantly killed. The few who don’t flat out hate them still aren’t excited to be around middlings. Meaning Conrad can’t tell anyone, not even his best friends, what he really is.

Conrad hides in plain sight by being a part of the volunteer Watch, those magically gifted who protect their cities from dangerous, arcane threats. And, to pay the bills, Conrad moonlights as a private detective and monster hunter for the gifted community. Which helps him keep up his personal fiction – that he’s a magical version of Batman. Conrad does both jobs thanks to charms, artifacts, and his wits, along with copious amounts of coffee. But little does he know that events are about to change his life…forever.

When Conrad discovers the Traveling Fair auction house has another middling who’s just manifested her so-called powers on the auction block, he’s determined to save her, regardless of risk. But what he finds out while doing so is even worse – the winning bidder works for a company that’s just created the most dangerous chemical weapon to ever hit the magical community.

Before Conrad can convince anyone at the Watch of the danger, he’s exposed for what he really is. Now, stripped of rank, magical objects, friends and allies, Conrad has to try to save the world with only his wits. Thankfully though, no one’s taken away his coffee.

Nettle and Bone
by T. Kingfisher
- I started reading this yesterday and it's already a stand out in a year of incredible books. The opening simply grabs you and drags you under. Out April 26.

This isn't the kind of fairytale where the princess marries a prince.

It's the one where she kills him.

Marra never wanted to be a hero.

As the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter, she escaped the traditional fate of princesses, to be married away for the sake of an uncaring throne. But her sister wasn’t so fortunate—and after years of silence, Marra is done watching her suffer at the hands of a powerful and abusive prince.

Seeking help for her rescue mission, Marra is offered the tools she needs, but only if she can complete three seemingly impossible tasks:

—build a dog of bones

—sew a cloak of nettles

—capture moonlight in a jar

But, as is the way in tales of princes and witches, doing the impossible is only the beginning.

Hero or not—now joined by a disgraced ex-knight, a reluctant fairy godmother, an enigmatic gravewitch and her fowl familiar—Marra might finally have the courage to save her sister, and topple a throne.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

Shout-Out: Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

Out in the darkness of space, something is targeting the Greatships. With their vast cargo holds and a crew that could fill a city, the Greatships are the lifeblood of human occupied space, transporting an unimaginable volume - and value - of goods from City, the greatest human orbital, all the way to Tradepoint at the other, to trade for xenoglas with an unknowable alien species.

It has always been Marca Nbaro's dream to achieve the near-impossible: escape her upbringing and venture into space.

All it took, to make her way onto the crew of the Greatship Athens was thousands of hours in simulators, dedication, and pawning or selling every scrap of her old life in order to forge a new one. But though she's made her way onboard with faked papers, leaving her old life - and scandals - behind isn't so easy.

She may have just combined all the dangers of her former life, with all the perils of the new . . .

Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Video: Introduction to Islamicate Occult Sciences

 I've been learning more about other religions lately, and how they view various magical practices (both those on the religious side, as well as the occult side) and stumbled across this video by Filip Holm at Let's Talk Religion. This is the first in a series of videos on magic in the Islamicate world over the centuries (in the 'shocktober' playlist). He's got videos on other religions too, which I may check out once I'm done with this series.

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

Book Review: Mickey7 by Edward Ashton

Pros: great premise, interesting characters

Cons:

Mickey Barnes is the expendable for the Niflheim beachhead colony, which means if there’s a dangerous job, he’s the one doing it. So it’s not surprising that when his seventh iteration falls into a deep hole he’s left for dead. Unfortunately when he makes it back to base a new copy of himself is sleeping in his bed. Multiples are the biggest taboo, so the Mickeys must hide what they are even as trouble is brewing with the planet’s indigenous lifeforms.

This book was a lot of fun to read. It’s quick paced and engaging, with Mickey7 including important incidents from his past while narrating the events of the present.

I went from thinking of Mickey7 as a decent guy, then kind of a jerk, then back to being a decent guy. Some of his history paints him in a bad light though it seems dying multiple times has improved his character somewhat. I really liked Nasha and thought their relationship was great.

The book poses some interesting ethical questions without delving too deeply into them or dwelling on them for long. It’s mostly a lighthearted read.

The world-building was great. There was a lot more explanation about the larger universe than I expected, with Mickey explaining things about life on his homeworld, Midgard, and some of the other colonies (successful & failed).

The ending ties together all the various narratives Mickey throws at you. I especially loved how his study of history gave him insight into how to think of the native species.

If you like easygoing, sometimes humorous, sometimes serious SF, give this a go.

Thursday, 10 February 2022

Shout-Out: Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction, edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki and Zelda Knight

Coming November 2022

From an award-winning team of editors comes an anthology of thirty-two original stories showcasing the breadth of fantasy and science fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora.


A group of cabinet ministers query a supercomputer containing the minds of the country's ancestors. A child robot on a dying planet uncovers signs of fragile new life. A descendent of a rain goddess inherits her grandmother's ability to change her appearance-and perhaps the world.

Created in the legacy of the seminal, award-winning anthology series Dark Matter, Africa Risen celebrates the vibrancy, diversity, and reach of African and Afro-Diasporic SFF and reaffirms that Africa is not rising-it's already here.

Table of Contents
  • “Introduction” by Sheree Renée Thomas, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, and Zelda Knight
  • “The Blue House” by Dilman Dila
  • “March Magic” by WC Dunlap
  • “IRL” by Steven Barnes
  • “The Deification of Igodo” by Joshua Omenga
  • “Mami Wataworks” by Russell Nichols
  • “Rear Mirror” by Nuzo Onoh
  • “Door Crashers” by Franka Zeph
  • “Lady Rainbow” by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu
  • “A Dream of Electric Mothers” by Wole Talabi
  • “Simbi” by Sandra Jackson-Opoku
  • “Housewarming for a Lion Goddess” by Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga
  • “A Knight in Tunisia” by Alex Jennings
  • “The Devil Is Us” by Mirette Bahgat
  • “Cloud Mine” by Timi Odueso
  • “Ruler of the Rear Guard” by Maurice Broaddus
  • “Peeling Time (Deluxe Edition)” by Tlotlo Tsamaase
  • “The Sugar Mill” by Tobias S. Buckell
  • “The Carving of War” by Somto Ihezue Onyedikachi
  • “Ghost Ship” by Tananarive Due
  • “Liquid Twilight” by Ytasha L. Womack
  • “Once Upon a Time in 1967” by Oyedotun Damilola
  • “A Girl Crawls in a Dark Corner” by Alexis Brooks de Vita
  • “The Lady of the Yellow-Painted Library” by Tobi Ogundiran
  • “When the Mami Wata Met a Demon” by Moustapha Mbacké Diop
  • “The Papermakers” by Akua Lezli Hope
  • “A Soul of Small Places” by Mame Bougouma Diene and Woppa Diallo
  • “Air to Shape Lungs” by Shingai Njeri Kagunda
  • “Hanfo Driver” by Ada Nnadi
  • “Exiles of Witchery” by Ivana Akotowaa Ofori
  • “The Taloned Beast” by Chinelo Onwualu
  • “Star Watchers” by Danian Darrell Jerry
  • “Biscuit and Milk” by Dare Segun Falowo